Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.

Archive for the ‘Blackwood Brothers’

CD Review: Blackwood Brothers – Sweet Songs About Heaven

July 08, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating4 starsBlackwood Brothers - Sweet Songs About Heaven

Producer: Billy Blackwood
Label: Daywind Records
Website: www.blackwoodbrothers.com

Song titles: Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland); Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot; Sweet Songs About Heaven; That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days; It Is No Secret; I’ve Heard About a City/Walk Dem Golden Stairs; Declaration of Dependence; That’s What Heaven Will Be; Someone to Care; The Devil Can’t Harm a Prayin’ Man

The name Blackwood is synonymous with Southern Gospel music, with an influence that has been around for most of the existence of this genre. The lasting influence is impressive enough, but add that to the fact that the group has still been going strong under the leadership of the sons of James Blackwood and you have something even more commendable. This project features the lineup of tenor Wayne Little, lead Jimmy Blackwood, baritone Billy Blackwood, and bass Butch Owens. Since this project’s release, Jimmy retired and Michael Helwig has stepped into the lead position. Other than the value of having Jimmy Blackwood’s final project with the group, how does this project measure up in quality?

The Blackwood sons seem to be playing a safe strategy with their music, leading a time-honored name into the modern recording era without forsaking the traditional Gospel quartet sound that has been cultivated in the group’s 75+ year history. On this recording, that ideal translates to mostly straight-ahead covers of classics, but there’s not much to complain about in terms of vocal sound. I would have liked a little more creativity involved in the covers of songs such as “It Is No Secret” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot,” as they really don’t cover new ground in terms of arrangement, but the singing is quality enough that it’s not really an issue.

The highlights of this project come in the new songs found here. Wayne Little and Billy Blackwood turn in the finest features with “Sweet Songs About Heaven” and “Declaration of Dependence,” respectively. Blackwood’s feature, in particular, was surprisingly strong; those who heard the group’s previous project, The Song Will Go On, got to hear plenty of Little and the others, but Billy Blackwood stayed mostly in the blend, only really being heard on a couple of standout lines. It was a pleasant surprise to hear how his vocal presence has developed, and I would not be surprised to hear “Declaration of Dependence” as a radio single. New bass Butch Owens also had a strong showing with good solo verses on “That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days” and “Someone to Care.”

If you’re looking for a project full of groundbreaking material, Sweet Songs About Heaven isn’t it, but solid quartet singing on a mix of old and new songs is just what this CD delivers, besides having sentimental value as Jimmy Blackwood’s last project before retiring. It’s not easy to bring a group with such a long legacy into the present day without dwelling in the past, but this project is a solid step in that direction, and it deserves its 4 star rating.

First Look: Michael Helwig with The Blackwood Brothers

October 10, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, First Look, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Youtube

In the course of the week, Youtube user MannaAcres posted several videos of the new lineup of the Blackwood Brothers in concert. These are the first videos of the group since Jimmy Blackwood’s recent retirement. You can go to the link above to see the rest of the videos, but I’ll just post a few that highlight what Helwig brings to the table:

What strikes me about these clips is how seamlessly the transition has been pulled off. Michael stepped into a huge void left by Jimmy Blackwood, but has brought a voice that is very similar to a Blackwood lead, while being unique enough to carve his own niche. Fans of the group that lamented the Blackwood Brothers sound being completely changed will find a lot to enjoy with this lineup.

The Blackwood Brothers Announce Changes

September 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

This group may not have been at NQC, but here’s a lineup change that may herald the start of the “NQC Turnover” season. The Blackwood Brothers made this announcement early this morning on their Facebook page:

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet announced the retirement of lead singer, Jimmy Blackwood tonight at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. New singer is Mike Helwig. He has a great voice and will be a great asset to the quartet.

Jimmy Blackwood has a long history in Southern Gospel music, starting with JD Sumner and the Stamps in the 1960s, as well as with his father James Blackwood’s group, the Blackwood Brothers, in the 70s and 80s. When I saw the group in concert a few weeks ago, I was struck with the energy and power with which he sang. While seeing an announcement about his retirement is somewhat of a shock, I wish him all the best, and am glad to know that the group will be carrying on under the leadership of his brother (and group baritone singer), Billy Blackwood.

That leads us to the new addition: Mike Helwig. Fans of Southern Gospel music will recognize him as the recent tenor of The Dixie Echoes, but his résumé also includes The Torchmen, The Stamps, The Wilburns, The Williamsons, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, Promise. Helwig is leaving the tenor position with Promise to take the lead singing job for this quartet, and the group has picked a vocalist that fits their style and direction very well.

But why take my word for it? Hear for yourself! Here are two videos of the same song: “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” The first features Jimmy Blackwood with the current lineup of the Blackwood Brothers, and the second features incoming lead Mike Helwig during his time with the Blackwood Quartet (especially on the encore).

Youtube Spotlight: The Blackwood Brothers

August 16, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Concert Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

The Blackwood Brothers came to Madison Heights, VA, this past Sunday night. I had not seen this quartet outside of NQC, and I was curious to hear their change in sound since the departure of bass singer Randy Byrd. The vocal lineup now stands as tenor Wayne Little, lead Jimmy Blackwood, baritone Billy Blackwood, and bass Butch Owens. The group brought a great concert in the tradition of the classic Blackwood Brothers, and did the majority of their songs with no tracks, just piano. Speaking of piano, Mike Hammontree has officially returned as the group’s pianist after coming off the road due to a quadruple-bypass heart surgery, and added quite a bit to their performance. Here are the clips I got of the night:



This & That 7/7/12

July 07, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Dixie Melody Boys, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Here’s a few items of interest from the past week:

1. The Dixie Melody Boys are offering a limited edition CD of Ed O’Neal’s first ever recording. A copy of the Gospel Harmony Quartet’s debut recording has been found and re-mastered, and is the first of many recordings with O’Neal’s bass vocals. This is being offered in a limited supply of one hundred CDs at the DMB website.

2. Promise has announced that their tenor search is over. Michael Helwig will be joining David Mann and TJ Evans in the trio. Helwig has been with groups like The Torchmen, The Stamps The Homesteaders (Williamsons), The Blackwood Quartet, and most recently filled the tenor position for the Dixie Echoes. I am looking forward to hearing the sound with this new vocalist.

3. Speaking of the Dixie Echoes, a number of videos have surfaced with fill-in members. It is unclear at this point if these men have gotten the job, since no announcement has been made, but here are a couple of those clips:

Those two videos feature Mark Cates on bass and Junior Shelton on tenor. Cates has been on every video uploaded, but Shelton was only at this particular date as far as videos are concerned. This was also one of Stewart Varnado’s last concerts with the group. A video entitled “Dixie Echoes’ new pianist” has popped up, featuring a guy named Ben Hart:

4. Finally, here’s a clip of the Blackwood Brothers featuring new bass singer Butch Owens:

Blackwood Brothers Hire Butch Owens

May 31, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Jimmy Blackwood and the Blackwood Brothers made the announcement of their new bass singer following weeks of fill-ins and auditions. Butch Owens is stepping into the bass position following the departure of Randy Byrd. He has already been in the studio working on the quartet’s next Daywind release. Owens is no stranger to Southern Gospel music, having sung with groups such as The Stamps Quartet, The Anchormen, The Florida Boys, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, a second stint with The Songfellows Quartet. His son is Ian Owens, bass singer for Ernie Haase & Signature Sound.

Here are a couple clips of Butch singing with The Blackwood Quartet (Mark Blackwood’s group) a while back:

The New Gospel Caravan

November 01, 2010 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Chuck Wagon Gang, LeFevre Quartet, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music

There has been talk lately of the new version of the Gospel Caravan tour that traveled in the early 1960s, which included groups like The LeFevres, The Prophets Quartet, The Blue Ridge Quartet, and The Johnson Sisters. At the 100th Anniversary Celebration at NQC 2010, the new Caravan troupe debuted, featuring the LeFevre Quartet, The Blackwood Brothers, and the Chuck Wagon Gang. A tour is slated to begin in Spring 2011 and the groups are currently at work on a studio album, but in the meantime, here’s a video press release discussing the Caravan:


Blackwood Brothers Add Pianist

April 06, 2010 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

A visit to the Singing News website brought this press release to my attention:

Memphis, TN – Jimmy Blackwood and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet are happy to announce the addition of pianist, Mike Hammontree, of Jacksonville, Florida. Mike began playing piano at the age of four, and at six years old was accepted in the Jacksonville University Conservatory of Music.
For the last fifteen years he has been the minister of music at Southside Assembly of God in Jacksonville, and recently resigned to fulfill the plans he felt God had for his life.
Jimmy said, “We heard about Mike and invited him to play for us at Bill Bailey’s Winter Quartet Convention in February, and again for several Florida concerts in March. We were the first quartet he ever played for and it seemed like a perfect match from the start.”
Mike’s wife, Dana and their sons Chad and Chase said, “This has always been a dream of Mike’s and now has become reality.” Mike says, “I’ve always been a Blackwood.”
For more information, visit www.blackwoodbrothers.com/index.html.

When Brad White left the group last year, they lost both a baritone vocalist and pianist. While White only played piano on certain songs, it still recalled the “old days” of the Blackwood Brothers, when they traveled with a pianist backing up the vocals. With this hire, they will have a full-time pianist with them, and more opportunity to do piano-and-voices moments in their concerts.

What Did I Miss?

December 02, 2009 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Blogging Community, Gold City, SG Artists, SG Industry News

Folks, let me say this; having a life isn’t fun!

All kidding aside, I’ve been busy, busy, busy with stuff outside of this blog and haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and write a thing! Here’s some things I’ve missed:

1. GoldCityTribute.com has been launched by fellow blogger Brandon Coomer. Like the Cathedrals Tribute site run by Daniel Mount, this site is a great place to find all things related to the history of a particular group. The information is well-researched and written, so go take a look!

2. Blackwood Brothers Announce New Baritone Singer In a press release at the Singing News website today:

Memphis, TN – The Blackwood Brothers Quartet are excited to announce the addition of a new member. Jimmy’s younger brother, Billy, has joined the group, filling the baritone spot. Billy played drums with the group back in the seventies, but has pursued a solo ministry career since that time. Billy plays drums on the new record and has also helped with vocal arrangements.
This is a new day for the Blackwood Brothers, the beginning of a new era of gospel music ministry, continuing the tradition and taking it to new levels.
We would like to thank Brad White for his years of service with the group and pray God’s blessing on his solo ministry.

It’s nice to see Jimmy bringing another Blackwood back into the long roster of Blackwood Brothers members. It’s a smart move in two ways: longtime fans will already be familiar with Billy, and the fact that he has already been involved in the new project will help to fit him in seamlessly. This Blackwood group has a very solid sound, and it will be great to hear them sing new material on the new project.

Things I Missed

July 20, 2009 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Gold City, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Tim Riley

Good to back with you all after a week in the Word at camp. Let’s see what I missed in my absence:

1. The Gold City lineup change rumors are back, and I’m still not buying it till I see a confirmation. I couldn’t put it better than AVFL commenter HP did:

As far as the GC rumors, I think they’ll need to come forward to clear it up. Though, I think the longer it all goes “unconfirmed” the more likely some part of the rumor is true. As in this genre it seems the smaller truth gets blown up into a large, widely circulated rumor. Could it be that group “moves” are becoming more entertaining than the music/performances themselves?

2. Speaking of which, Tim Riley will be appearing with Gold City at the Mull’s Singing Convention next month. Combined with the rumors that Aaron McCune is leaving, this is giving people fits. At any rate, it’s just a special guest appearance. (h/t, Wes)

3. Wes was on a roll last week, also posting the story that Daywind Records has signed the Blackwood Brothers. This is the group that features tenor Wayne Little, lead Jimmy Blackwood, baritone/pianist Brad White, and bass Randy Byrd. One of the best quartets on the road today, Daywind has made a great move in signing this group. I’m looking forward to the debut Daywind release from these guys.